Defining Consciousness

Consciousness is not only influenced by the unconscious but continually emerges out of it in the form of numberless ideas and sudden flashes of thought. [“The Psychology of Eastern Meditation,” CW11, par.935.]

I asked the question, “Do you think Trump is consciously aware of what he’s doing?” The answer to this question depends on how you define consciousness and whether such definitions are either too broad or too narrow. Is Trump aware of the surrounding reality in the world of 2022?  Or is he only aware of the possibilities that exist for him?

If consciousness is defined as having a sense of one’s personal or collective identity, especially the complex of attitudes, beliefs, and sensitivities held by or considered characteristic of an individual or a group, then, yes, Trump is consciously aware of himself and the world around him. He is aware of his self-image.

But if having consciousness refers to having “knowledge,” in the sense that if one is conscious of something one also has knowledge of it, then Trump is not consciously aware of what he is doing. Essentially, consciousness is the awareness of the individual and the world around that individual. This awareness is subjective and unique to the individual. If Trump can describe something he is experiencing in words, then it is part of his consciousness.                          

Maggie Haberman relates how Trump reflects on the meaning of being president of the United States, “His first impulse was not to mention public service, or what he felt he’d accomplished, only that it appeared to be a vehicle for fame, and that many experiences were only worth having if someone else envied them.”[1]   

Granted, our conscious experiences are constantly shifting and changing. Televised at the White House on the day he was inaugurated as president, he said,  “This is BIG! REALLY, REALLY BIG!” Perhaps this was the moment he became aware of the possibilities that existed.

“The question I get asked more than any other question,” Trump said in regard to running for president, ‘If you had it to do again, would you have done it? The answer is, yeah, I think so. Because here’s the way I look at it. I have so many rich friends and nobody knows who they are.”[2] Op cit.

Referring to classified information when interviewed with Hannity, (September 23, 2022) “Because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago, or to wherever you’re sending it. You’re the president, you make that decision. So when you send it, it’s declassified. I declassified everything.”

To live consciously means to be attentive, to perceive and respect reality, whether it is external – objective, or internal – subjective. Being aware is comparable to being responsible in relation to reality. In other words, to choose to see and recognize what exists rather than pretend that it does not exist. If living consciously is to choose the most appropriate mental state in relation to the action in progress, it does not appear that Trump is, in any way, prepared to shed the persona he has constructed. There may, however, be an awakening in the flash of a thought. When he becomes aware of himself, he will have achieved consciousness, and with that comes the awareness of responsibility. Till then . . .


[1] This article is adapted from Maggie Haberman’s forthcoming book Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.


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